Ramses II is considered to be one of the greatest Egyptian pharaohs of all time, earning him the moniker Ramses the Great. He lived somewhere in between 1303 BC and 1213 BC, ruling from 1290 to 1224 BC during the New Kingdom. Ramses II’s grandfather, Ramses I, was the one who had “elevated their commoner family to the ranks of royalty through his military prowess” (National Geographic). His father, Seti I, ensured Egyptian’s prosperity by opening many mines and quarries. Although Ramses is most well-known for his building endeavors, he was also the first ruler to take part in a peace treaty whose record has survived. Many believe that Ramses was a good and effective ruler. Ramses influenced many aspects of Egypt, including its geography, religion, achievements, politics, economy, and social structure. Consequently, some of these categories also had an influence on Ramses.
To say that Ramses changed Egypt’s geography would not be fully accurate. Rather, he added to its geography, quite literally. Ramses had conquered Canaan and the Israelites, but was constantly threatened by the formidable Hittites. In his early days, much of his rule was defending the Hittite-Egyptian border. This problem plagued him for several years before he finally negotiated a treaty with the Hitties, which happened to be the first peace treaty that historians know about. Besides his military prowess, Ramses is also known for his building projects. The most notable of these include his temple and Abu Simbel and Karnak, which happen to be located on the bank of the auspicious Nile River. This is most likely due to the fact that the Nile provided easy transportation of building materials and workers to and fro. Ramses also used historically legendary locations to his advantage; he built the city Per-Ramesses next to the city Avaris, a historically well-known city. Because this city was already known by many and had a strong reputation, Ramses further established his own repute among his subjects. However, his building endeavors were not carried out with only himself in mind.
Ramses’ building projects were often influenced by his religious beliefs: most of his buildings were temples, including the ones at Abu Simbel and Karnak. What’s more impressive is that these temples are relatively unscathed (besides Abu Simbel, which had to be relocated to higher ground because of a flood). Most of these temples were dedicated to the sun god Ra, whom Ramses identified with. As an example, Abu Simbel was dedicated to Amun-Ra, a god that was a combination of Amun, another popular deity, and Ra. Besides gods, Ramses also built temples in honor of himself and his favorite wife, Nefertari (not to be confused with the more famous Nefertiti). The influence of religion on Ramses is also evident in his military campaigns. During his most famous Battle of Kadesh, he named his divisions after four major Egyptian gods: Amun, Ra, Ptah, and Seth.
Although Ramses isn’t known for being a particularly pacifist pharaoh, he is known for his skill in negotiating. As mentioned earlier, he signed the first known peace treaty in history with the Hittites, which was a result of several years of negotiation. He then went further and married the Hittite king’s daughter to establish a gesture of goodwill toward his past enemies. The peace that Ramses established increased his appreciation from his subjects, and seeing that he wasn’t murdered during his 66 years of reign, he must have done his job well. However, biblical texts also paint a picture of him as notorious for relentlessly enslaving the Israelites and not letting them go.
Ramses II influenced Egypt in a way unparalleled by any pharaoh before or after. He conquered land and defended it; he built buildings that are still standing; he won a battle with smaller numbers; everything about him is impressive. As a result of his legendary status, many pharaohs to come remembered him by taking the name Ramses; a fitting way to preserve the legacy of the incredible ruler of Egypt.